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Weeding out the Impurities in Medical Grade Cannabis

Weeding out the Impurities in Medical Grade Cannabis

Posted by Marijuana Doctors on 12/04/2013 in Medical Marijuana Research

Forensic botanist and associate professor at the University of New Haven, Heather Miller Coyle, recently used a 10-times magnifying microscope to uncover a rather troubling reality. The microscope detected a number of pollutants and contaminants present in marijuana, including but not limited to: mold, mildew, salmonella, insect parts and E. coli. These contaminants appear in the form of tiny dots dispersed throughout the leaf, not visible to the naked eye. And though the results proved to be rather startling, they did not come as a shock to Coyle who began developing a process to detect contaminants present in marijuana through DNA profiling and analysis earlier this year.

Coyle began developing this process with a goal of identifying potentially harmful substances present in the plant by way of simpler analysis, quicker for labs nationwide in the burgeoning industry and the absolutely necessary cannabis quality control testing. The Univeristy of New Haven’s developments have been an extension of the DNA profiling the school has been conducting over the past five years from a $100,000 grant given by the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program. “What we’re trying to do is put the information together in a user-friendly format,” said Coyle. “Having some better technology in place is a good thing.” Within this line of work, the process will also work to identify whether or not the cannabis material is real or synthetic (sprayed with THC compounds). The developed profiles of the biological contaminants found in marijuana would be kept in a database kept by the National Center for Biotechnology Information along with other DNA profiles of organisms and could be used for comparison.

Coyle is using this research as a platform for public health concern and is urging legalized states to pass stricter certification laws. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana with a doctor given recommendation, and Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The majority of the testing laws in effect now are primarily potency based, rather than contaminant based. However, there are a number of labs throughout the country which have been testing cannabis for its contaminants using several pre-existing methods for decades. These same tests are done on other plants as well, including food crops for harmful substances. Both Connecticut and Washington state currently have contaminant testing laws in order, and other states are starting to follow suit – inviting testing as yet another financial facet to the industry. “If there’s no certification…it’s like saying we don’t check our meat for mad cow disease,” said Coyle. And just as all other medications must be tested for safety precations before it can be distributed to the public, so too should marijuana. “That’s our goal as a private university, to develop the tools to address or mediate this issue.”

Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project agrees that stricter testing laws would be a positive aspect to add to the industry. “Although we have not seen significant problems with tainted marijuana in the past, we should certainly be taking steps to make sure it’s not a problem in the future.” Tvert went on, “We have never seen a death solely associated with marijuana use. The same certainly can’t be said of alcohol and other drugs.”

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